At the December 8th, 2017 regular meeting of the RM of Torch River Council, Dalton Clifford stood up to speak to the remaining council members on behalf of a group of concerned ratepayers. Mr. Clifford has been involved with recent informal meetings and discussions with over 60 other ratepayers, who feel that the RM of Torch River council and operations have many serious issues they feel need to be addressed.
While scheduled to speak at 11:30 am, council found themselves ahead of their schedule and requested Mr. Clifford give his delegation address at 10:45 am. The council assured him they would hear his address, then, after holding two required public meetings on other issues, allow him to resume at 11:30 am.
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Council allowed him the standard 15 minutes, during which he spoke of a multitude of concerns brought forward to himself and several other ratepayers he collaborated with, prior to the meeting. His address included concerns as well as solutions he and others were recommending.
Poor and Unsafe Road Conditions – Roadways need to be brought back into safe conditions:
- Crown the road to ensure proper water run-off
- Remove the ridge on the sides of the road. This could be achieved by installing drop blades on the graders in late fall and winter when the grass is dead (it will make less trash and will take longer to grow back in the springtime) and ensure that water has a chance to run off of the road rather than pooling on and soaking into the road causing ruts.
- Slow the traffic down to 50 km/hr for 1 ton and larger vehicles; 70 km/hr for cars and light trucks. Enforce such speed limits.
- Stock pile gravel on the west side of the RM to be used in summer for repairs. This is to lessen heavy traffic on summer roads. This will also save an average of 2 hours of more waiting time and will allow workers more time to complete repairs. There is less repair work to be done in the winter, therefore more time to haul gravel.
- Any contracts tendered must only be granted to qualified contractors with experience and proper equipment; when completed, the project must pass inspections performed by qualified inspectors.
Expanding on current tender processes currently used by the council in the course of it’s operations, Mr. Clifford also suggested;
- Council must ensure that all tendering procedures for the purchase and sale of equipment, goods and services are followed. These procedures must include proper advertising of the tenders; honouring the tender process; providing proper notification to all parties involved and ensuring fulfillment of tenders as outlined.
Many of the ratepayers he was speaking for have indicated they had reason to believe council and administration have not always followed policy when tendering work, or purchasing or selling vehicles and equipment.
Administrator Nathalie Hipkins explained that the guidelines for the tender process are laid out in their policies and follow that mandated by the New West Partnership Trade Agreement* and that only tenders with an anticipated value of $75,000 or higher are tendered. The lower value ones are awarded using calls for estimates from contractors.
Proper Operating Procedures Within the RM Council, Administration and Staff
Mr. Clifford also spoke of concerns brought forward to him about operating procedures of the RM, beginning with concerns regarding the use of the current By-Law Enforcement procedures. In his address he explained why he and others felt the RM needed to review the use of the current By-law Enforcement Officer and provided the following recommendations for council to consider when dealing with By-law related complaints;
- Any concerns called into the RM office should be directed to the councilor representing the involved division.
- The councilor must meet with all parties involved and try to come to an agreeable solution. (Note: These people we are dealing with are friends, family and/or neighbours)
- Should a resolution not be reached, the councilor must then bring the problem to the council meeting.
- The councilors should discuss the problem and decide upon acceptable solution and/or how to enforce the by-law, if the problem pertains to a by-law, and notify the parties of the solution by registered mail.
- As a last resort, should no acceptable solution be found, then council must choose to employ the services of a qualified By-law Officer. (Paying for the involvement of unqualified personnel should be strictly prohibited.)
An additional solution proposed in Mr. Clifford’s speech included a suggesting a venue for each councilor to reach out to ratepayers in their divisions;
- Councilors should set aside time to meet with the residents of their division in a public forum, two weeks prior to the council meeting, in order to exchange information and concerns and so that the councilor can bring any concerns to the rest of the council as in a proper democratic society.
“You people don’t really know what is going on in your division,” Mr. Clifford added.
Mr. Clifford cited a particular case he felt was not properly addressed by council or administration. Council members reassured him that the case cited had been properly addressed in council meetings.
Administrator Hipkins explained how the By Law complaint process works for the RM. Ratepayers can submit a complaint using a form on the RM website, or by mail, as well as calling their office for help filing a formal complaint. When a complaint is filed, they are required to forward the complaint to the By-law Enforcement Officer, who then investigates and reports back to the council. During the process the ratepayer is provided opportunity to address council regarding the complaint.
Councilor Jensen also added, “We’re governed by the Municipal Act, and we follow those rules”
Councilors Schmidt and LaRose emphasized that all of their personal contact numbers are available to ratepayers and residents are encouraged to contact them with any concerns they have. “I want ears to the ground, I want to hear” stated Councilor LaRose, “My personal cell phone number is on there”
Councilor Schmidt added, “Ratepayers are welcome to call their councilors at anytime, that’s our job”
Mr. Clifford also expressed concern that some ratepayers felt the duties of the Administrator needed to be reviewed by council. He stated;
- The duty of the Administrator is to keep council informed and up to date on current and impending issues and to carry out the policies set by council, not to act upon his/her own opinion.
- The Road Superintendent should provide a monthly summary report (spreadsheet) to council including hours of operation, fuel consumption, maintenance and repair costs of every piece of equipment. Daily log books must be summarized and presented to councilors as a way of keeping the councilors informed of operating costs.
“What does it cost to run a grader, do you people know?” questioned Mr. Clifford
Superintendent Murray Black explained that grader costs were calculated using a standardized government scale, and assured Mr. Clifford that he, council and administration were currently working on collecting and reporting that type of information so that it can be used to analyze operating expenses and used in future plans.
Building and Permits
Regarding building permits and general development in the RM, Mr. Clifford’s group felt the council was “…basically spinning wheels” Mr. Clifford stated that building permits where taking too long, “Why does it take four months to get a building permit?” He asked the council.
Council members responded that they follow policies set out in the by-laws as well as those mandated to them in the Municipal Act
On behalf of his group, Mr. Clifford recommended that;
- Applications must be reviewed, processed and acted on in a fair and timely fashion. Qualified professionals need only be involved when public safety is a concern or when required by an insuring party.
Mr. Clifford indicated there where also concerns that the current Building Inspector was not qualified based on what his research showed to be recently updated rules, according to Mr. Clifford, a Building Inspector was required to be a red seal tradesman, architect or engineer.
Council advised him they would look into it.
- Fire Department – we should be investing in local fire departments (such as White Fox, Choiceland, and Smeaton) in order to reduce taxpayer’s insurance premiums and to ensure timely response times to calls. It would reduce the costs of “nuisance” calls. It would also reduce unfounded cost increases and retainers imposed by the Nipawin Fire Department.
Councilor Jensen pointed out that the Rm had tried to get White Fox Fire Department services for the RM, however there where many issues preventing that from happening. The option of White Fox Fire Department serving any areas in the RM is no longer an option because it not longer exists after and an agreement was made between the Village of White Fox and Nipawin Fire Department to amalgamate the WFFD into the Nipawin Fire Department. Council member also pointed out the difficulty in recruiting volunteers that all small local fire departments are dealing with right now.
- Property which has had required maintenance performed should be exempt from property tax increases. Example: changes to windows, doors, flooring, shingles, color, etc. due to damage, age or wear is considered required maintenance and should not be taxed. These repairs will be taxed when the real estate assessments come into play every (four years).
- Additions to existing buildings or additional buildings erected on the property would still be taxable. Anytime you change the footprint on the land or replace a structure, it is considered an improvement and should be taxed accordingly.
(This topic was outside the scope of the council’s powers as all Property Assessments for the purpose of taxation are done by SAMA-Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency)
- We need to form our own local business development committee who’s sole purpose is the betterment of the RM of Torch River and it’s residents and to stop collaborating with Twin Lakes Development out of Nipawin – for their interests are for the Betterment of Nipawin. It is important to encourage the development and operation of as many businesses, small and large, to in our RM. These businesses supply jobs to our youth, employ local residents, help keep our communities vibrant ensuring the survival of our community halls, libraries, rinks and schools and ensuring a higher standard of living for all residents.
Mr. Clifford also asked what the RM of Torch River’s contribution was to Twin Lakes*. Administrator Nathalie Hipkins stated they had not received an invoice for 2017, however the payment made to Twin Lakes in 2016 was $3,844.00
- Office and maintenance staff must be kept down to a minimum ensuring only basic staff be retained on a full time basis. Part-time and seasonal workers should be employed to fill in as necessary.
- Equipment must be purchased only when necessary, and only by properly tendered processes. Current equipment must be justified to be retained. All equipment should be assessed for repairs and evaluated – equipment beyond cost efficiency of repair should be replaced. Any equipment that is not of viable value to be kept on a permanent basis should be liquidated by tender, at fair market value.
- Employees must be supervised – or must be able to justify the time spent on a project. Projects must be scheduled in such a manner that all required personnel and equipment are on hand so as not to cause unnecessary delays.
Overall the group Mr. Clifford was speaking on behalf of felt that expenses were getting way out of hand. Mr. Clifford had stated that he had done some comparisons with other RMs and felt expenditures by the council were not justified, including approximately $1.2 million for wages alone.
Councilor LaRose acknowledged his concerns, “Your point is validly taken, for sure”
Mr. Clifford also suggested the RM reduce their fleet of graders from the current 6 down to 2 or 3 and hire contractors to do the additional work.
Superintendent Black stated that the complete snowplow route encompassed 1,700 kms of roads, at a currently calculated cost of approximately $18,000 to complete the entire route. They use 5 of the RM graders on a regular basis, and the 6th is employed in the event there is a large snowfall. Graders are purchased on a 5 year cycle to keep all under warranty and traded off while there value is still beneficial.
In final his final words Mr. Clifford concluded, speaking on behalf of the group, “We would like to see things move around in a more timely manner”
Councilor Schmidt also brought up a reminder for ratepayers in general, “Please pass it on to any ratepayers to please call with their concerns. We are here to serve you, the ratepayers”
Mr. Clifford was in attendance later during the meeting for the agenda item “Business Arising From Delegations”. When council reached that point in the agenda, Councilor LaRose asked if he had anything else he would like to add. Mr. Clifford stated he did not and council moved onto the next item of the agenda with no further discussion arising from the delegation.
Coverage of the remainder of the December 8th RM of Torch River regular council meeting to follow.
Important Note: The point form statements are from Mr Dalton’s distributed notes. Not every comment in his statement was read word for word however he followed his format very closely.
*Background/ Further Research Sources
For anyone who wishes to research further on these topics here are some useful resources
- New West Partnership Trade Agreement Government Procurement – The NWPTA applies to procurement by municipalities, school boards, health regions and publicly-funded post-secondary institutions (the MASH sector) as well as corporations or entities owned or controlled by one of the preceding. It requires open and non-discriminatory procurement where the anticipated costs are at or above the following thresholds: $75,000 or greater for goods – $75,000 or greater for services – $200,000 or greater for construction
- You can view more information about the duties of the Administrator as set out in The Rural Municipal Administrators Act
- More information about Building Inspector Qualifications can be viewed on the Government of Saskatchewan web site
- Twin Lakes District Plan, RM of Torch River Website – Twin Lakes District Planning Commission is an advisory body that is responsible for facilitating the discussion of matters of mutual interest to the affiliate municipalities while encouraging regional coordination of infrastructure and services, where possible and appropriate, to efficiently respond to the needs of the region. The DP provides the affiliate municipalities with a means of evaluating development proposals and formulating decisions concerning future public investments in community facilities and infrastructure within the District. This community roadmap in turn will provide certainty for persons, agencies, and groups interested or involved in decisions relating to the future growth and development of the communities by forecasting the direction for growth and establishing parameters for accommodating this growth.